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Location of proposed Courts facility a home run for Staunton

What a difference a few weeks can make. Late last March the Staunton News-Leader ran an article highlighting the surprise city announcement that the downtown Hardy Parking Lot at the corner of Market and East Beverley Streets would be taken over by Staunton’s new Juvenile and Domestic Relations Courts (J&DR Courts) facility.

New site for Staunton courts facility
Aerial view of former Chestnut Hills Shopping Center on W. Beverley Street

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This immediately and understandably resulted in significant public pushback targeting both the lack of communication about the process and the location itself. The Hardy Lot is an established, well-situated parking area that is important to downtown businesses and destinations and also serves as a transitional space between adjacent commercial and residential land uses. So it is hardly surprising that citizens and business owners packed subsequent City Council meetings, voicing their concerns and offering alternative suggestions and help in locating more appropriate sites.

After working with key stakeholders, city staff announced at the May 25 Council meeting that they had reached an agreement to purchase the former Chestnut Hills Shopping Center property on West Beverley Street for the J&DR Courts facility. What a tremendous opportunity this acquisition is for the West End neighborhood and the entire City of Staunton.

It is important to acknowledge that Chestnut Hills was the city staff’s first choice from the beginning, based on their initial assessment of potential properties. Unfortunately, they were told the property was not for sale. But thanks to the determination of West End resident Betty Jordan, who has worked for years trying to identify tenants to revitalize the property, the city learned that the owner was indeed interested in selling.

It is especially exciting that the site’s approximately 10 acres in size—of which roughly 60% is existing buildings and pavement area—makes it large enough to accommodate much more than just the J&DR Courts. It will also be able to meet future growth needs for a wide range of city services. Possibilities could include new police, fire department, and rescue headquarters, a community and/or senior center, and a home for the much needed public schools maintenance facility.

But the possibilities are not restricted to city services—the site also has enormous potential for community-wide benefits. These could include an outdoor space featuring such recreational amenities as a splash pad in the summer, an ice skating rink in the winter, and/or a West End neighborhood park. There is even potential retail opportunity along the West Beverley frontage, which could help offset some of the site acquisition costs.

Below is a conceptual illustration I developed showing some of these facilities as they could be sited on the property.

During the early search process, the Hardy Lot seemed to have one big advantage: the city already owns it. In contrast, acquiring the Chestnut Hills site cost the city $1.75 million. However, despite the higher initial acquisition cost, its size and location make it a far smarter choice for Staunton: 

  • It will be much less disruptive to develop than a parking lot tightly packed into the downtown core, eliminating the significant negative impact on downtown businesses, residents, worshipers, and visitors.
  • Development costs may well be lower at Chestnut Hills due to the ability to reduce hardscape areas to manage stormwater requirements and the site’s far fewer space constraints when compared to the Hardy Parking Lot. The property’s size also offers the potential to develop the courts facility as a single-story building, further reducing costs.
  • It will finally kickstart the West End’s much-discussed and long-deferred revitalization, not only helping to develop this area, but to better connect it to the downtown core. Properly planned and implemented to address the city’s current and future needs, this project’s potential to help revitalize the West End is extraordinary. It is easy to imagine the new city government site attracting additional development to the immediate area. One example could be an influx of nearby restaurants and retail businesses to support the site’s employees and visitors. Another should be the long-overdue addition of sidewalks and bike lanes to this area of W. Beverley. This development can create a synergy that will positively influence economic development along the entire corridor for years. 

To maximize the city-wide benefit from such a multi-generational investment, it will be critical to properly plan these necessary public improvements. Therefore, the next step should be incorporating a vision for the property into a Master Plan that will accommodate the identified future needs of the city and can be successfully implemented over time. This will require genuine and close collaboration among city leadership, city staff, and the public. 

As a current member of the Staunton Planning Commission with over twenty years of planning experience as well as collaboration with government entities, I believe I can bring much to City Council as we all work together to steer this exciting project toward an outcome that will benefit the entire city.

What do you think? Please take a minute to let me know what you would like to see at the new city facility site.